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This report discusses contested concepts that called to just how we could understand poor from a sociological/social concept perspective. It find that:

part sociologists have tended to define poverty by referring to people’s ethical failings, fecklessness or dependency cultures, while rather have argued that it can be better understood as a an outcome of just how resources and also opportunities space unequally distributed across society; part sociologists have pointed to the decreasing influence of social class in the UK, yet research shows that social class and processes of class reproduction remain essential – the methods open to human being are quiet influenced, come a large extent, by your social course positions; sociologists allude to the prestige of stigma and also shame in knowledge the experience of poverty; and the means that those experiencing poverty deserve to be negative stereotyped by institutions such together public or welfare distribution services has additionally been shown to be vital in stigmatising and disadvantaging those experiencing poverty.

This report is one of 4 reviews spring at poor from different perspectives.

You are watching: Which explanation of poverty do sociologists generally support?

Key points

Sociological thinking concentrates on the structure and aramuseum.organisation of culture and how this relates to society problems and individual lives. In spring to explain poverty, sociologists have regularly tried to balance the relative prestige of social frameworks (how society is aramuseum.organised) and also the function of individual firm – people’s live independence choices and also actions. Sociologists room interested in exactly how resources in culture are distributed. Some sociologists, particularly those creating in the 1970s and 1980s, have actually tended to define poverty by introduce to people’s moral failings, fecklessness or suspended cultures. Others have argued that poverty have the right to be better understood as a result of the ways in i m sorry resources and opportunities space unequally distributed throughout society. Part sociologists have pointed to the decreasing influence of social class in the UK. Yet study has shown that society class and also processes of course reproduction remain important, specifically for the continuous of poverty with time and across generations. ~ above a related topic, sociologists have actually pointed to the importance of stigma and also shame in knowledge the experience of poverty. A specific concern is with exactly how the spending trends of those in the biggest poverty are frequently subject come stigmatisation. The methods in which establishments such together public or welfare distribution services can negatively stereotype those experiencing poverty has additionally been presented to be essential in stigmatising and also disadvantaging those suffering poverty. Come a large extent, people’s social course positions still affect the opportunities open come them. Starting out life in poverty means a higher risk of poverty in later on life.


Much sociological concept is directed at understanding social change. Social philosophers throughout history have seldom talked around poverty together such, yet nonetheless their insights right into the economic ordering and structure of culture offer an useful ideas for knowledge poverty. Marx and Engels, writing in victor Britain, pointed to the stark divide in between the impoverished functioning classes who had nothing to sell but their labour and the capitalist class who, by virtue the owning the means of production, were able to make use of this labour to their profit.

Sociologist Max Weber, writing around the turn of the 20th century, pointed to the prominence not simply of economic components in producing and sustaining inequality, but likewise the affect of power, status and prestige in perpetuating leading relations. Emile Durkheim, ~ above the various other hand, emphasised the functional requirement of social inequality for the well-being of society. Echoes that these early theoretical principles can be seen in sociological thinking, to a greater or lesser degree, ideal up come the current day.

This testimonial analysed sociological theories and concepts ~ above the causes of poverty, concentrating on exactly how to recognize poverty from a sociological perspective.

Poverty and also the ‘undeserving poor’

Much sociological thinking on poverty, particularly in the 1970s and also 1980s, has revolved around the relative prominence of social structures and also individual agency in explaining the prevalence and also perpetuation the poverty end time. The social and also political propensity to mark out some human being as gift somehow responsible because that their own hardship has actually a lengthy history. In many accounts, an especially popular and also political ones but likewise some academic studies, the emphasis has to be on the supposedly ‘undeserving poor’, citing individual behaviours, claimed fecklessness or moral failings as key causes of poverty.

More recently, it has actually been said that the welfare device is responsible for encouraging and supporting claimants right into welfare dependency. Additional recent variations of this ideas suggest to ‘cultures of worklessness’, ‘troubled families’ or family members who have actually never functioned as an essential explanations because that poverty. Sociologists have been crawl to use empirical proof to an obstacle these dominant, individual and also often mental explanations for poverty. They allude to the prestige of the more comprehensive context and the kinds of methods open to human being as being an ext important 보다 individual behaviours and also choices in explaining and understanding poverty.

The close combination made between poverty and individual behaviours method that it have the right to sometimes be complicated to disentangle poor from related problems such as joblessness or receipt that welfare. This is especially the instance in some existing popular and also political discourse, which ignores the reality that not all unemployed human being are poor and nor are all of those suffering poverty the end of work. The tendency to conflate poverty with other social concerns such as unemployment, welfare receipt or problem abuse, or come uncritically mention these problems as explanations of poverty, is bound up through the propensity to portray poverty as a problem created by those enduring it. It is likewise indicative that a much more general tendency to downplay the meaning of poverty altogether.

The ‘cultural turn’, consumption and also social class

Sociologists usage the principle of society class generally in their research, and most agree that social class has an financial base. In current years, part have argued that social course distinctions have come to be more complicated and fuzzy and less far-ranging for lifestyles and life experiences. It has actually been suggested that avenues for identity formation have opened up up and become an ext reflective the individual selection than they were in the past. That is argued that individuals now have greater control over their very own destinies. Consumption practices (what world buy and consume) are often cited together a vital mechanism whereby people can show their individuality and also create their very own individual identities.

Consumption, however, has additionally become an progressively important element of distinction and stratification. Those experiencing poverty often find it daunting to partake in expected consumption behaviours. Furthermore, wider society frequently subjects the security habits and also patterns that those in the biggest poverty to stigmatisation.

So, while access to consumption might seem to open up avenues for civilization to build their lifestyles and also identities in means reflecting their own individual preferences and also choices, that can additionally reinforce and support social class divisions and also distinctions. Furthermore, social class positioning continues to be vital influence on many, if no all, aspects of people’s lives, consisting of educational attainment, work and recreation activities.

Poverty, stigma and also shame

Poverty and material deprivation room important chauffeurs of stigma and also shame. The explicate of those in poverty together ‘the other’ regularly occurs with the use of specific language, labels and images about what it way to be in poverty. These processes take ar at different levels and in different sections of society. Those working in welfare sectors, for example, could negatively – and mostly wrongly – suggest to individual personality traits and behaviour as soon as explaining the vital reasons because that unemployment. This is a process of negative stereotyping those who space disadvantaged. While these labels are often used from the top down, in the direction of those experiencing poverty by those who room not, civilization in poor can also buy into and also perpetuate together stereotypes and also stigmatisation. This is the an effect of the press those in poverty challenge to disassociate us from the stigma and also shame linked with poverty.

Capitalism and also the an altering labour market

For a lengthy time, successive governments have lauded work as the ideal route the end of poverty. However the changing face of the work market and work itself method that employed is no much longer a guarantee passport far from poverty, if indeed it ever before was. In the existing context, working conditions for numerous have worsened, public ar jobs have rapidly declined, unemployment and also underemployment have actually been increasing, and also low-paid and part-time work have proliferated. Low-paid work, or ‘poor work’ as it is periodically referred to, is now an integral and growing facet of the modern labour market. It is a particular problem because that those nations which have adhered to an economy based upon aggressive free-market principles. As a result, in-work poor is one increasingly crucial explanation for modern poverty.


Sociology gives a powerful tool because that thinking around poverty. ‘Thinking sociologically’ can aid us to better comprehend society issues and also problems. It allows us to understand personal troubles as part of the economic and political institutions of society, and also permits united state to actors a critical eye over worries that might otherwise be taken simplistically or misinterpreted. In looking in ~ poverty, myths and misconceptions dominate both popular and political discussions. Sociological thinking deserve to be helpful in trying to disentangle poor from a variety of related concepts and largely pejoretive discussions around a selection of social problems.

Some attention has recently been specialized to the discussion of increasing inequality. In the current context, financial inequality is getting more extreme, with those in ~ the an extremely top farming ever richer if the bulk are finding life significantly harsh and also poverty rates are increasing. Lot of the sociological evidence reviewed in this study has been pertained to with the reproduction the (social class) inequalities end time. Study has shown that the bulk of the british public accept that wealth can buy opportunities, however conversely most likewise believe in the id of a meritocracy and that tough work is the best means to gain on in life. Yet evidence shows that true equality that opportunity merely does not exist.

Using a frame of inequality (and equality) enables scope to think an ext closely about issues of course perpetuation and their connection with poverty. It is not happenchance that countries with low prices of relative income poverty have tendency to have actually a strong focus top top equality. Sociological theory can alert human being to exactly how a farming emphasis on separation, personal, instance responsibility and also behaviour could make class inequality and also the importance of possibility structures less obvious. In spite of this, it remains the case that where people start out in life continues to have actually a far-ranging influence on where they are likely to finish up. Beginning out life in poverty way a higher risk of poverty afterwards in life.

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About the project

This testimonial analysed sociological theories and concepts ~ above the causes of poverty and also ways to understand poverty from a sociological perspective. The review was necessarily just partial, together the dimension of the ar under consideration did not allow for a systematic review of all appropriate literature. Hence, the review concentrated on what the authors considered to it is in the many relevant arguments for understanding poverty sociologically.